Erebus and Terror. Death of the Banshee.


When embarking on polar exploration, it might be no harm to consult the omens. Would you name your vessels Confusion or Disaster? No you would not. That would be tempting Fate. What about Irrevocably Lost and Accident Prone? No. Think positive. The Greek myths explained natural phenomena through the medium of the tangled family relationships of vindictive and endlessly fornicating deities. I recall a protest from a correspondent in the Irish Times many years ago, at the American practice of naming the space rockets after mythological figures, Apollo, Saturn, Mercury. This was, according to the writer, demeaning to the concept of deity and all religion. He lost me there. What however, possessed Sir John Franklin to select ships named Erebus and Terror? Erebus, the child of Chaos, is the god of darkness, the epitome of blackness and oblivion. Terror needs no definition in our time. Almost two centuries later, some light has penetrated the story of this legendary disaster. The hag-like faces of  several of Franklin’s crewmen, with wild, staring eyes, have emerged from the permafrost, to tell a story of unimaginable suffering and horror.


During the storms of last week we fell to talking about survival and the fragility of the infrastructure on which our way of life depends. We had a thirty six hour electricity outage. The sea and sky were a uniform blue-black colour, relieved  only by the dim white of the breakers at the sea wall. We had no heat, light or cooking facilities. Mobile phones died. We had no access to Bear Grylls on television to show us how to source nutrients from grubs and rhizomes.  The situation looked desperate. We had to fall back on conversation, left-overs of turkey and ham and the dwindling stocks of wine, beer and Baileys. We avoided ghost stories. We survived. There were no mutinies or desertions. Occasional take-away meals kept body and soul together. We enjoyed the experience but a third day without power might have tried mens’ souls beyond endurance.

Christmas,sun room, ESB 024

Apparently 10 of those 38 KV went on the blink, excising parts of North County Dublin from the network. Huge credit is due to the ESB workers who worked tirelessly in dismal weather, to restore the supply. It is something we take for granted when it works. At the flick of a switch we command the awesome power of rivers, winds and billion year old fossil fuels, to do our bidding. It is no wonder that those who seek to disrupt our way of life, see the destruction of power sources as a quick and easy way to do so. We call them terrorists.

Christmas,sun room, ESB 025

A documentary about the origins of the ESB and its influence on our society,was called, The Death of the Banshee. It paid tribute to those who brought light to the darkness and dispelled our primitive fears. We are in their debt. The upshot of our meditation on survival was that after we had looted the supermarkets and petrol stations and eaten all the rhizomes from the garden pond, our way of life and civilization would be a push-over to any concerted attack. It’s a flimsy construction, needing constant maintenance or else we descend again into an age of darkness.

The terrorist, asserted Brendan Behan, is the fellow with the little bomb. He had a point.


One of Franklin’s ships on the cold seabed.